Operating with a laser-like focus and speed rarely seen in Washington these days, the House and Senate have now both passed a bill designed to fix the FAA's furlough problem, proving that Congess can fix problems quickly—as long as problem directly impacts Congresspeople.
Of all the bizarre, pointless, and occasionally boneheaded consquences of the sequester, the furlough of air traffic controllers and the closing of control towers are hardly the most disatrouous. While some airports (particulalrly in New York City area) have seen heavy backups, most airports are operating smoothly—and many, many flyers have hardly even noticed the change. Those who have, well, they've only been marginally inconvenienced, relatively speaking; a two-to-three hour delay is hardly unheard of on a good flying day, and a few missed business meetings will not cripple the economy.
But the people who miss those meetings tend to have the ear of Congress. As Bloomberg's Josh Barro (and many others) have pointed out, the FAA furloughs are bad for people who fly a lot. And people who fly a lot tend to be richer. Congress. Shuttling between your district and Washington gets you a lot of frequent flier miles. Here's more from Barro:
Meanwhile sequestration is forcing an 11 percent reduction in benefits to approximately 1.8 million long-term unemployed Americans. It has also led state and local housing agencies to stop issuing Section 8 housing vouchers to families on waiting lists. Congress has not rushed to fix those problems.
The FAA fix has been sold as an effort to ensure that sequestration does not interfere with "essential" government services. When lawmakers say "essential," they apparently mean "essential to people like me."
Unfortunately, the whole of the point of the sequester was that it was supposed to make everyone feel the pain in equal amounts. That was the only way to get both sides united behind a workable budget compromise. If Congress is going to make a patchwork quilt of fixes that only address the loudest complaints, there's no need to fix any of the actual underlying problems. Indeed, it will probably only make those problems worse.
Instead Congress gets to pat itself on the back for doing something, and go right back to pretending that real people aren't being seriously hurt by their lack of real action.
Congress showed again today it's not "broken." It works just fine, just not the way people want it to.— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) April 26, 2013
House votes to end Air Traffic Controller furloughs, then leaves Capitol and heads to the airport.— Ethan Klapper (@ethanklapper) April 26, 2013
The lesson of Congress' FAA fix: Congress will act, but only if it and its friends are hurt. What a sad commentary on DC.— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) April 26, 2013